Like most Las Vegas exports, the Killers are a high-risk, high-reward proposition. One minute, they’re knocking out arena-rock anthems with the best of them, the next they’re sinking under the weight of Brandon Flowers’s rock-star preening and fumbling grasps at profundity. Even Flowers had to admit that the band’s last record, 2012’s “Battle Born,” wasn’t quite up to their standards. That puts a lot of pressure on “Wonderful Wonderful”; fortunately, the Killers sound up to the challenge, hitting their marks more consistently and with more élan than they have in a long time.
The Killers live and die by their singles, and with the help of ace pop-rock producer Jacknife Lee, they’ve cooked up a particularly delicious batch for “Wonderful Wonderful.” The title track starts the album with a tense post-punk roil before erupting into a chorus so dramatic it’s downright biblical, Flowers milking his messiah complex for all it’s worth. Next is “The Man,” an impossibly catchy disco floor-filler on which Flowers, critiquing macho bravado by thoroughly embodying it, gets to have it both ways. Then there’s “Run for Cover,” which sprints through Flowers’s motormouth verses as if it knows its karaoke-ready chorus is just too good to wait for.
“Wonderful Wonderful” doesn’t completely dodge the pitfalls that have plagued past Killers albums. About half of the record’s 10 tracks are ballads, and though some, like the Brian Eno-sampling “Some Kind of Love,” are quite pretty, others merely tread water. The band fares much better when shouting the fist-pumping refrain of “Tyson vs. Douglas” to the rafters or switching up their sound with the electro-blues gospel of “The Calling.” As for lyrics, while there’s no shortage of overreaching platitudes and downright clunkers, you can’t help but admire the conviction with which Flowers sells the most ridiculous lines. Listen in awe as he implores you to “just drop-kick the shame” on the U2 ripoff “Life to Come.” Has a more transcendently campy motivational lyric ever been penned?
Now that the ’80s revival has taken over pop radio, the time is ripe for the Killers to capitalize on the trend they helped to kick-start. The knock on them has always been that their albums surround great singles with skip-able filler, but this time out they’ve put together a relatively tight, cohesive record. It’s not without its flaws, but “Wonderful Wonderful” still might be the best Killers album yet.Terence Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @terence_cawley